There is nothing more refreshing on a hot, humid summer day in South Carolina than going to the beach. I find it enjoyable taking a float out into the ocean and just spend time floating on the rolling waves. However, you have to always pay attention to what is happening. If you simply let the ocean take you where it wants you to go, you can end up in some pretty dangerous situations. You could be pulled out to sea or the current can take you way down the beach and far from your intended location. Drifting can be very dangerous.
I was reminded about this through two things that I experienced yesterday and this morning. I came across the remarks that Dr. Jerry P. Kulah, Dean of Gbarnga School of Theology, United Methodist University in Liberia gave at the United Methodist Church Special General Conference Session in St. Louis, Missouri yesterday, February 23, 2019. I can’t remember when the last time I read such a bold speech as Dr. Kulah’s. After reading it, I found myself under heavy conviction.
This special conference was called to address the church’s stance on marriage and sexuality. According to Kulah, one group was encouraging church leaders to “take a road in opposition to the Bible and two thousand years of Christian teachings.” Kulah saw that his denomination was at a crossroads and he equated it to what God said through Jeremiah thousands of years ago.
Thus says the Lord: “Stand in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; then you will find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’ Jeremiah 6:16 (NKJV)
It was at this point in his address that Dr. Kulah became very bold in his position. There was no doubt that he was committed to taking “another road.” According to Kulah that road, “invites us to reaffirm Christian teachings rooted in Scripture and the church’s rich traditions.”
He went on to speak the truth with great forcefulness but seasoned with amazing grace. Read his words carefully.
While “we commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons,” we do not celebrate same-sex marriages or ordain for ministry people who self-avow as practicing homosexuals. These practices do not conform to the authentic teaching of the Holy Scriptures, our primary authority for faith and Christian living.
However, we extend grace to all people because we all know we are sinners in need of God’s redeeming. We know how critical and life changing God’s grace has been in our own lives.
We warmly welcome all people to our churches; we long to be in fellowship with them, to pray with them, to weep with them, and to experience the joy of transformation with them.
Friends, please hear me, we Africans are not afraid of our sisters and brothers who identify as lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgendered, questioning, or queer. We love them and we hope the best for them. But we know of no compelling arguments for forsaking our church’s understanding of Scripture and the teachings of the church universal.
As you read these words, I hope that many of you were silently, or maybe out load, saying a hearty — Amen! However, these words were not the ones that brought great conviction to my heart personally. It was what he said later in his speech.
And then please hear me when I say as graciously as I can: we Africans are not children in need of western enlightenment when it comes to the church’s sexual ethics. We do not need to hear a progressive U.S. bishop lecture us about our need to “grow up.”
I better understood the commitment to biblical truth that this man was standing on when he explained that this stand could mean that the African churches of this denomination could lose financial support from US churches. However, this wasn’t seen as a threat to Dr. Kulah. Money was not an issue with him.
Unfortunately, some United Methodists in the U.S. have the very faulty assumption that all Africans are concerned about is U.S. financial support. Well, I am sure, being sinners like all of you, some Africans are fixated on money.
But with all due respect, a fixation on money seems more of an American problem than an African one. We get by on far less than most Americans do; we know how to do it. I’m not so sure you do. So if anyone is so naïve or condescending as to think we would sell our birth right in Jesus Christ for American dollars, then they simply do not know us.
We are seriously joyful in following Jesus Christ and God’s holy word to us in the Bible…Please understand me when I say the vast majority of African United Methodists will never, ever trade Jesus and the truth of the Bible for money.
We will walk alone if necessary... [emphasis mine]
I went to bed Saturday night wondering if I would stand and walk alone if necessary like Dr. Kulah was willing to do? Then I went to church Sunday and the message was on the book of Hebrews. The key verse that the pastor preached from was,
Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away. Hebrews 2:1 (NKJV)
Another translation states that we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. As I was driving home, it seemed like God was asking me are Christian schools at the same crossroads that Dr. Kulah’s denomination is at?
What I am about to say can be easily misunderstood. I am not condemning in any way development strategies, learning methodologies, research findings about effective schooling or a host of other great things happening in Christian schools. However, I am burdened that we may need to pay much closer attention to the things we have heard! We cannot compromise the importance of knowing, understanding and being fully committed to a biblical philosophy of education in our homes, churches and schools. If we don’t take such a stand — even if it means we must walk alone — will we be selling our birth right in Jesus Christ? Drifting may seem enjoyable but it is extremely dangerous!
Tomorrow I will share some of the things that have caused me to be so committed to kingdom education. I trust you will better understand my journey through the years as I pay closer attention to the things I have heard.